PJ Media

The News from Pluto: a Fable

It has been determined by the International Astronomical Union that Pluto is no longer a real planet, having been relegated to the status of a plutoid, that is, a dwarf planet circling beyond the orbit of Neptune, a mere rock of ice shambling about in the Kuiper Belt.

The planetary demotion does not sit well with the Plutoniacs, who are up in arms over the astronomical slight to their collective dignity. As PNB (Pluto National Broadcaster) reports, protests have erupted across the entire surface of the aggrieved celestial body, with intense flare-ups in Cthulhu Regio, Sputnik Planum, and Meng P’o, and bloody violence in the Brass Knuckles sector. The governing PPP (Planetary Popular Party) has lodged a sharply worded rebuke with the Astronomical Union. The minority SOC (Socialist Orbital Collective) has gone even further, threatening to mobilize the spaceforce to shoot down any passing probes and fly-bys.

The Astronomers claim that Pluto does not satisfy all the conditions for inclusion into the planetary family, of which there are three: solar orbit, hydrostatic equilibrium (sufficient mass to acquire a rounded shape), and gravitational dominance (sweeping up or expelling cosmic debris). Pluto, the Union concedes, meets the first two criteria but not the third, for it is swarmed by Kuiper Belt detritus that reduces it to a spatial excrescence.

Plutoniac scientists for their part argue that, as in the Meatloaf song (Plutoniacs are fond of Earth music), two out of three ain’t bad. Moreover, they stress, Earth shares its sidereal neighborhood with some 12,000 asteroids and therefore it too fails to meet the third condition for planetary ranking.

The Astronomers counter that this mob of asteroids are negligible interlopers, scarcely to be noticed, whereas Pluto’s neighbors in the Kuiper Belt are essentially planetoids, some like Ceres, Eris, Quaoar, Makemake, Orcus and Sedna nearly as large as Pluto itself, which is in any event too small to be classified as a bona fide planet.

The Plutoniacs fire back that Mercury is not that much bigger than Pluto and yet is embraced as part of the family. The Astronomers retort that, aside from the fact that Mercury is precisely twice as large as Pluto, it is also a special case, in close contact with the sun and distinguished by the mysterious precession of the equinoxes, which make it unique and deserving of its prestige. Additionally, if Pluto is to be designated a planet, they point out, others are bound to follow. The taxonomy of the Solar System would soon be overwhelmed by sheer numbers and so lose its unique character, washed out by proletarian sameness. Planetoids will surely bring their moons with them and crowd the denominational habitat with parasitical Dysnomias, Hi’iakas and Weywots, all clamoring for official status and residential benefits. Is all distinction, then, to be erased? Do not the planets that variously contribute mass, presence, beauty, eccentricity and gravitational significance to Solar society merit the prominence they have attained? What, by comparison, does Pluto, a perennial hanger-on, bring to the table?

The Plutoniacs are having none of it, denouncing the Astronomical Union as lackeys of the terrestrial power structure and taking issue with their assumption of privilege. Do the poor, the marginalized and the dispossessed count for nothing in the planetary scheme? Should astronomical considerations, scientific classification and objective facts be permitted to over-ride the legitimate aspirations of the excluded whose rights remain unacknowledged and whose suffering is regarded as of no importance? Why should claimants from the backwaters and slums of the planetary community be regarded as scavengers merely because they have little to recommend them? Should not the society of planets be governed by the spirit of universal parity? Is Pluto not equal in existential value to Earth or, for that matter, Jupiter? Size, influence, material contribution and evident activity are unearned prerogatives, they assert, mere accidents of time and chance. For are not all heavenly bodies the children of the Big Bang?

Faced with a growing barrage of accusations of Earthism, helioproxism and Plutophobia, the Astronomical Union has been set back on its heels and is presently reconsidering its judgment as, perhaps, hastily and improperly rendered. Some of its members now regard the new definition as internally inconsistent and others have disclosed that only a fraction of the 2,700 scientists who attended the pivotal meeting were present at the vote. Clearly, the process was skewed from the start and the Plutoniacs, who are presumably not devoid of reason and moral principle, have mounted a strong case on their behalf. The day may have arrived to arrange for a more equitable dispensation.

Although the Astronomers themselves have no intention of surrendering their professional pre-eminence and caste advantages, they now seem prepared to accept the vociferous demands of the Plutoniacs and, in fact, to take the issue a step further and turn the Solar System into a celestial haven where all comers—planetoids, comets, asteroidal migrants and fugitive black holes from the more turbulent and desert-like regions of the universe—will be made welcome in the arena of reclassification. Fairness requires reparation and outreach.

Indeed, as some of the conferees have begun to speculate, why stop at mere tabular nomenclature? Why not think boldly and go where no man has gone before? Re-codification is doubtless an appropriate concession, but more is needed. Physical proximity is the only real answer to the claims and grievances of the outriders. Technological advances in Space Engineering may allow for the eventual redistribution of orbits to create a more homogeneous, intimate and compact planetary alignment, with Pluto and its fellow Kuiper Belters and their satellites becoming part of the inner ring. In this way systemic bias and discrimination would become a thing of the past to be replaced by the sentiment and practice of universal enlightenment. One can imagine AW197 trailing or even leading Saturn on its course around the sun and weird, dervish-like Haumea cheek by jowl with Earth. No dwarf planet left behind!

True, under these circumstances the Solar System would look very different and a “new normal” would prevail, the Astronomers admit. But perhaps this is for the better. All should share equally in the order of things despite the upheavals, the collisions and the suspension of natural law that will likely shatter the framework of the Solar System to smithereens. After all, gravitational havoc, orbital mayhem and ultimate chaos are a small price to pay for cosmic justice.

A delegation from Pluto is expected any day.

(Artwork created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)